Success in the UFC is often all about timing. If a fighter is given an opportunity, it’s probably best that they take it right away just in case it doesn’t come around again. Sometimes, though, patience can be a virtue.
Over the years, we’ve seen numerous UFC fighters who were on the cusp of a title shot when they took a tricky fight instead of waiting – and paid the price.
Would these fighters have been guaranteed a shot at the gold had they simply held out? It’s a definite possibility, but of course, nothing is for sure in the UFC, and fighters need to compete to get paid.
However, the following three UFC stars almost definitely would’ve regretted their decision to hold out for a big fight.
#3 Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza – UFC middleweight title
Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza recently announced his retirement from MMA after a string of bad losses. At his best, though, the Brazilian was one of the greatest middleweights on the planet.
In fact, Jacare probably stands as one of the best fighters never to have received a UFC title shot despite a number of excellent wins. But could the grappler have had a shot at the gold had he demonstrated more patience? According to the man himself, the answer is yes.
A recent interview with Jacare revealed that he believes his 'biggest mistake' during his UFC tenure was choosing to fight Robert Whittaker in April 2017 rather than wait for a shot at then-UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping. At the time, Jacare had gone 7-1 in the UFC, with his only loss coming to Yoel Romero, who was later suspended for a positive drug test.
Jacare was never confirmed as the top contender, but his recent interview revealed that he had a good chance of being the next in line for ‘The Count’, who decided to wait out for a clash with Georges St-Pierre in the latter part of 2017.
And so, rather than wait for the winner, Souza decided to face Whittaker in the interim, and found himself on the wrong end of a knockout loss.
Whittaker would, of course, go onto fight Romero for an interim UFC middleweight crown just three months later, defeating the Cuban by decision.
In hindsight then, even if Jacare had never gotten his shot at Bisping, at worst, he probably would’ve been rematched with Romero for an interim title had he waited a little longer. It’s no wonder that he sees the decision as the biggest regret of his UFC career.
#2 Anthony Pettis – UFC lightweight title
Anthony Pettis famously won the UFC lightweight title in 2013 when he submitted Benson Henderson, but could he have claimed the belt a whole lot sooner? Had things gone slightly differently, the answer is probably yes.
Back in 2010, Pettis was arguably the hottest fighter in MMA. That year ended with him using his vaunted ‘Showtime kick’ to defeat Henderson for the WEC lightweight title.
And when the UFC announced that the WEC’s roster would be joining the larger promotion, as one of the WEC’s champions, Pettis was promised a unification bout with the UFC lightweight champion.
However, that changed at the first UFC event of 2011. UFC 125 saw Frankie Edgar defend his UFC lightweight title against Gray Maynard, and after a titanic battle, the fight was declared a draw. It was clear that a rematch would be required, which left Pettis in a sticky spot.
With his popularity at an all-time high, ‘Showtime’ likely could’ve chosen to wait for the winner of the Edgar/Maynard rematch, keeping the idea of a UFC/WEC unification bout intact. However, clearly confident in his skills, he instead agreed to fight rising contender Clay Guida, and subsequently found himself on the wrong end of a decision.
In a later interview, Pettis referred to the fight, labelling it the 'fastest fight of his life”',and stating that he believed he’d simply knock Guida out, and claim his title shot, but that never happened.
So while ‘Showtime’ did eventually earn his shot and win the UFC lightweight crown, he had to do it the hard way – by winning three more tricky bouts. It’s probably safe to say that he regretted his decision not to hold out a little longer.
#1 Tony Ferguson – UFC lightweight title
The long-awaited fight between UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson had already been cancelled on multiple occasions when the UFC announced it would headline UFC 249 in April 2020.
Nobody could’ve predicted that once again, the fight would fall apart – and this time, neither fighter would be to blame. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, UFC 249 was postponed indefinitely, and it looked like Khabib would be unable to travel to defend his title.
The UFC was able to rebook the event in May – a month later – but with Khabib’s travel issues still ongoing, they booked Ferguson against Justin Gaethje with an interim lightweight title on the line.
Realistically, Ferguson could’ve balked at the fight, and demanded to wait for Khabib. After all, ‘El Cucuy’ was riding a 12-fight win streak, and literally everyone wanted to see him square off with ‘The Eagle’.
Instead, though, he agreed to face Gaethje, and suffered a dramatic beatdown en route a fifth-round TKO loss.
The defeat immediately pushed Ferguson out of title contention. And worse still, the UFC’s ability to put on events on Abu Dhabi’s ‘Fight Island’ meant that Khabib returned much quicker than anyone would have expected.
He fought and defeated Gaethje in October at UFC 254, just five months after Ferguson’s big loss.
So given the time frame, as well as the fact that Khabib vs Ferguson was one of the most highly anticipated fights in UFC history, had ‘El Cucuy’ simply put his foot down, the UFC likely would have agreed.
Instead, Ferguson was left to rue what might’ve been had he simply exercised a little more patience. It’s a decision ‘El Cucuy’ surely must regret till today.
After Khabib, Conor and Jon Jones, it's Islam, O'Malley and Izzy. Follow them here!